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THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ
and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique
Solomonici), popularly known as the Knights Templar or the Order of the Temple
(French: Ordre du Temple or Templiers), were among the most famous of the
Christian military orders.
The organization existed for approximately two centuries in the Middle Ages. It
was created in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096, to ensure the safety
of the large numbers of European pilgrims who flowed toward Jerusalem after its
Officially endorsed by the church in 1129, the Order became a favored charity
across Europe. It grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, easily
recognizable in their white mantle with a distinct red cross, made some of the
best equipped, trained, and disciplined fighting units of the Crusades.
Non-warrior members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure
throughout Christendom, innovating many financial techniques that were an early
form of banking, and building numerous fortifications across Europe and the Holy
The Templars' success was tied closely to the success of the Crusades. When the
Holy Land was lost and the Templars suffered crushing defeats, support for the
Order's existence faded. Rumors about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony
created mistrust, and King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Order,
began pressuring Pope Clement V to take action. On Friday, October 13, 1307,
King Philip had many of the Order's members, including the Grand Master Jacques
de Molay, arrested, tortured into "confessions", and burned at the stake. In
1312, Pope Clement, under continuing pressure from King Philip, forcibly
disbanded the entire Order.
After the First Crusade resulted in
the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, many European pilgrims headed for the area to
visit what they referred to as The Holy Places. But although the city was under
relative control, the rest of the Outremer was not. Bandits abounded, and
pilgrims were routinely slaughtered, sometimes by the hundreds, as they
attempted to make the journey from the coastline at Jaffa into the Holy Land.
1119, French knight Hugues de Payens and his relative Godfrey de Saint-Omer,
veterans of the First Crusade, proposed the creation of a monastic order for the
protection of these pilgrims. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem agreed to their
request, and gave them a headquarters in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount, in the
captured Al Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount had a mystique, because it was above
what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. The Crusaders
therefore referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon's Temple, and it was from
this location that the Order took its name of Poor Knights of Christ and the
Temple of Solomon, or "Templar" knights. With few financial resources, the tiny
Order of approximately nine knights had to rely on donations to survive. Their
emblem displayed two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing their
The Templars' impoverished status did not last long. The Order had a powerful
patron in Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading church figure and a nephew of one of
the founding knights. He spoke and wrote persuasively on their behalf, and in
1129 at the Council of Troyes, the Order was officially endorsed by the church.
With this formal blessing, the Templars became a favored charity across Europe,
receiving money, land, businesses, and noble-born sons from families who were
eager to help with the fight in the Holy Land. Another major benefit came in
1139, when Pope Innocent II's papal bull Omne Datum Optimum exempted the Order
from obedience to local laws. This ruling meant that the Templars could pass
freely through all borders, were not required to pay any taxes, and were exempt
from all authority except that of the Pope.
1187's Battle of the Horns of Hattin, the turning point in the Crusades. In the
mid-1100s, the tide began turning in the Crusades. The Muslim world was more
united under effective leaders such as Saladin, and dissension rose between the
Christian factions. The Knights Templar were occasionally at odds with the two
other great Christian orders, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights,
and decades of internecine feuds weakened the Christian positions. After several
disastrous battles including the pivotal Battle of the Horns of Hattin,
Jerusalem was lost to Saladin in 1187. The Crusaders retook the city in 1229
(without Templar help), but held it just briefly. In 1244, the Khawarizmi Turks
recaptured Jerusalem, and the city would not again be under Christian control,
until 1917 when the British took control from the Ottoman Turks.
The Templars were forced to relocate their headquarters to other cities in the
north, such as the seaport of Acre, which they held for the next century. But
they lost that too in 1291, followed by their last mainland strongholds, Tortosa
(in what is now Syria) and Atlit. This left them with only an offshore
headquarters in Limassol, Cyprus, and a garrison on tiny Arwad Island, just
off the coast from Tortosa. They tried to establish an alliance with the
Mongols, and attempted to build a new invasion force at Arwad. In 1302,
however, they lost that island as well, their last foothold in the Holy Land.
Arrests and dissolution
Philip IV of France (1268–1314)In 1305, the new Pope Clement V, based in France,
sent letters to both Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and Hospitaller Grand
Master Fulk de Villaret, discussing the possibility of a merging of the two
Orders. Neither was amenable to the idea, but Pope Clement persisted, and in
1306 he invited both Grand Masters to France to discuss the matter. De Molay
arrived first, in early 1307, though de Villaret was delayed for several months.
While waiting for him, De Molay and Clement discussed charges that had been made
two years earlier by an ousted Templar. It was generally agreed that the charges
were false, but Clement wrote to King Philip IV of France, also known as Phillip
the Fair, to request his help in the investigation. King Philip, however,
decided to seize upon the Templar rumors for his own financial needs. He was
deeply in debt to the Templars as a result of his war with the English, and he
began pressuring the church to take action against the Order in order to free
himself from his debts.
On Friday, October 13, 1307 (a date incorrectly linked to the origin of the
Friday the 13th legend), Philip had Jacques de Molay and scores of other French
Templars simultaneously arrested, charged with numerous heresies, and tortured,
forcing false confessions of various blasphemies. Despite the fact that the
confessions had been produced under duress, they caused a scandal in Paris. In
response to more bullying from King Philip, Pope Clement then issued the bull
Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to
arrest all Templars and seize their assets.
Papal hearings were convened to determine the Templars' guilt or innocence. Once
freed of the Inquisitors' torture, many Templars recanted their confessions.
Some had sufficient legal experience to defend themselves in the trials, but
Philip wouldn't allow it, and in 1310 used the previously forced confessions to
have dozens of Templars burned at the stake in Paris.
With Philip threatening military action unless the Pope agreed to comply with
his wishes, Clement finally agreed to disband the Order, citing the public
scandal that had been generated by the confessions. At the Council of Vienne in
1312, he issued a series of papal bulls, including Vox in excelso, which
officially dissolved the Order, and Ad providam, which turned over most Templar
assets to the Hospitallers.
Convent of Christ in Castle Tomar, Portugal. Built in 1160 as a stronghold for
the Knights Templar, it became the headquarters of the renamed Order of Christ.
In 1983, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As for the last remaining
leaders of the Order, the elderly Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who had
confessed under torture, retracted his statement. His associate Geoffrey de
Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, followed de Molay's example and did the same,
insisting on his innocence. Both men were declared guilty of being relapsed
heretics, and sentenced to death by being burned alive at the stake in Paris on
March 18, 1314.
Legends and relics
The Knights Templar have become associated with legends concerning secrets and
mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times. Rumors circulated even
during the time of the Templars themselves. Freemasonic writers added their own
speculations in the 19th century, and further fictional embellishments have been
added in modern movies and best-selling novels such as Indiana Jones and the
Last Crusade, Ivanhoe, National Treasure, Foucault's Pendulum, The Last Templar,
and The Da Vinci Code.
The best known of the Templar legends are connected with the Order's early
occupation of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and speculation about what relics
the Templars may have found there, such as the Holy Grail or the Ark of the
Covenant. That the Templars were known to be in possession of some relics is
certain. Even today, many churches display relics such as the bones of a saint,
a scrap of cloth that a holy man once wore, or perhaps even the skull of a
martyr. The Templars did the same. They were documented as having a piece of the
True Cross, which the Bishop of Acre carried into battle with them at the
disastrous Horns of Hattin. When the battle was lost, Saladin captured the
relic, which was then ransomed back to the Crusaders when the Muslims
surrendered the city of Acre in 1191. They were also known to possess the head
of Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon. The subject of relics also came up during the
Inquisition of the Templars, as several trial documents refer to the worship of
an idol of some type, referred to in some cases as a severed head, and in some
cases as Baphomet.
There was particular interest during the Crusader era in the Holy Grail myth,
which was quickly associated with the Templars, even in the 12th century. The
first Grail romance, the fantasy story Le Conte du Graal, was written in 1180 by
Chrétien de Troyes, who came from the same area where the Council of Troyes had
officially sanctioned the Templars' Order. In Arthurian legend, the hero of the
Grail quest, Sir Galahad (a 13th-century literary invention of monks from St.
Bernard's Cistercian Order), was depicted bearing a shield with the cross of
Saint George, similar to the Templars' insignia. In a chivalric epic of the
period, Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to Templars guarding the Grail
Kingdom. A legend developed that since the Templars had their headquarters at
the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, they must have excavated in search of relics,
found the Grail, and then proceeded to keep it in secret and guard it with their
lives. However, there is no historical record of the Templars ever having the
Holy Grail in their possession. In the extensive documents of the Templar
inquisition, there was never a single mention of anything like a Grail relic,
and most scholars agree that the story of the Grail was just that—a fiction that
began circulating in medieval times. One legendary artifact that does have some
connection with the Templars is the Shroud of Turin. In 1357, the shroud was
first publicly displayed by the family of the grandson of Geoffrey de Charney,
the Templar who had been burned at the stake with the Order's last Grand Master,
Jacques de Molay, in 1314. The artifact's origins are still a matter of
controversy, but carbon dating indicates that the shroud may have been made
between 1260 and 1390, a span that includes the last half-century of the
This article uses material from the Wikipedia
article "Knights Templar".
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